Today’s message is about treasure.
But when we hear that word treasure today, our minds tend to wander off into thoughts of pirates, maps, and perhaps Johnny Depp.
There are hundreds of online exercises you can do to help you determine what some of your core values may be. Perhaps at work or at school you have done some sort of test or exercise related to core values.
Today we don’t have time to do an extensive core values exercise, but we can start with something simple. A few questions have always been helpful to me and I hope they are for you.
The first question to ask yourself:
What would I do if I knew the world was going to end one week from today?
Answer honestly and quickly.
The second question:
Jump ahead to the end of your life. You know that your time on this earth is at an end. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical?
Next, think of someone you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire.
That is a good way to wake up our minds and to get us thinking about our values. A reminder: values are part of who you are, they are not who you think you should be nor are they what others think you should be.
Let’s keep going.
Here is a short list of possible values. I want you to make a mental note of the values that feel right to you. Or, come up with some of your own.
_____Commitment to Family _____Commitment to Spouse/Partner
_____Commitment to Community _____Commitment to career
_____Friendship _____Sense of Humor
Have you done it? Okay, now of the values you marked, how many are there? Narrow them down to five or less.
This is a helpful exercise to get us focused on the story in Luke’s Gospel. This teaching of Jesus challenges the disciples [and all of us] to ask:
What do I value?
Your treasure/value determines where your heart is.
In other words, what we value moves us to decisions, actions, and the giving of ourselves [resources, talents, time, and energies].
Let’s put this Luke story in context. Previously, Jesus told the story of the rich fool. Then, he followed that up with the charge to live without anxiety. Look at the birds of the field…Do not worry about food or clothing, because God knows that you need these things. It is a provisional “duh.” The disciples were meant to see birds and other animals and plants, and they were meant to remember this teaching. If these living things are taken care of, shouldn’t we believe that we are taken care of, too?
People who fret and worry do so because they buy into society’s assumption that we do not have what we need. Anxiety follows.
Society teaches us the myth of scarcity.
We are made to believe that there isn’t enough food and shelter for all people, so we must compete for even the basic of things. Jesus challenges us with a different point of view: there IS enough for everyone and we need to stop with this attitude of scarcity. It is destructive and causes nothing but anxiety and suffering.
A healthy change from a perspective of scarcity to an attitude of abundance helps us to stop being afraid. Our anxiety level goes down. It is God’s great pleasure, says Jesus, to actually freely give humanity the Kingdom. In other words, God enjoys providing what is necessary for all people. In God’s perspective, every human being [created in God’s image] should have enough to live, should be care for, and therefore fear is not necessary. It’s not about waiting for heaven so things get better. God is freely giving this in the present tense. Now.
This shift from scarcity and competition to abundance and sharing leads to Jesus commanding the disciples to actually do something.
Give to the poor.
Why? Because society is unbalanced. Even though there is enough for people to eat, some still go hungry. This is our doing, not God’s. The disciples are commanded to “act out” the principle of the last being the first. Who does society reject and trample on? The disciples are called to bless them and to be generous so as to lift them up. In this way, they participate in God’s loving action in the world.
This teaching rejects the idea that treasures are individualistic desires for more things.
Disciples are instead called to place their treasure [their values] in the poor, in the downtrodden, and ultimately, they are called to place their value [and trust] in God’s generous, giving love.
Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.
It is a famous, bumper sticker-type Jesus saying.
But we often get it wrong.
Notice that Jesus does not say, “Where your heart is, put your treasure.” He says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, if you really want to get your heart into something, give a lot of money to it.
A lot of money.
Like..all of your money.
Jesus’ teaching contradicts our typical perspective.
Usually, we assume that our imagination can draw us into a different reality.
I imagine that I want to be kind and generous. I think about it. My heart is into it. And so…that should lead to me actually doing it.
Jesus says the opposite.
Instead: creating a new reality can change our imagination.
Living a new reality can change our hearts.
Are you with me here?
For example, say I want to be live out my core value of being compassionate. Instead of thinking about how I can be compassionate, reading about it, imagining it—I should instead put my treasure into it. I should put my resources into compassion; my time; my energy; my enthusiasm. I should create a new, compassionate reality for myself and for others.
And only then will my heart truly be in it.
So, to review: this is teaching us:
Do not fear. We should not fear because fear paralyzes us.
Without fear, we are free to move, act, bless, give, and love.
Without fear, decisions become clearer.
Without fear, we trust rather than distrust.
Without fear, we focus on what’s important and we don’t hoard the unimportant.
It all starts with do not fear.
We need to stay awake and alert, but not out of fear.
We need to stay awake out of love.
God loves us, and it is God’s great pleasure to take care of us, to provide, so it follows that we should trust and stay awake out of…love.
Perhaps, if we take this to heart [literally], we will be less reactive and more proactive; less apathetic and more compassionate; less depressed and more joyful; less selfish and more generous.
If we stayed awake, with our lamps burning out of love, how would that change our actions?
I think it would, and I think it would change the church.
After all, the church is just people.
But sadly, the church is often an organization that acts out of fear and certainly believes that there is more scarcity than abundance.
There are two pastors who post funny church signs that also have deep meaning. I chose three that I’d like to show you.
Most churches live in fear.
The core values become obvious when these are the only questions:
Will we meet our budget? Will our endowment run out?
Will we scare people off? Will our ministry be controversial?
We don’t have enough resources to help in our community. So what?
And yet, as we’ve been thinking about our own core values as individuals, I wonder if the church did the same. What if we valued justice, peace, compassion, and love and put all of our treasure into those things?
What if we made decisions out of love and not fear?
How would that shift our energies and refocus us?
Friends, this is a challenge, to be sure. It is not easy to shift perspective overnight. But I do think we can start with do not fear.
I think if we start with an attitude of abundance and thankfulness, we will be much more capable of making a positive, lasting impact in the world.
It is true–we are driven by our treasure.
What do you value?
Wherever your treasure is, your heart will be.
Why not go for it?
Why not pursue your values, giving of yourself?
Why not act on those values on a daily basis?
May it be so in me and all of us.